My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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celebrating Mike Nichols

Sometimes I am so enthralled by something on television, I think of my friends who proudly live without it and shake my head. Tonight, on PBS’s American Masters series, a portrait of the director, producer, writer and actor Mike Nichols that was so good, moving, interesting, I took notes all the way through. Unforgettable. (Directed, I found out later, by his longterm improv partner Elaine May.)

I learned years ago, to my surprise, that Nichols was Jewish, but didn’t know he was actually born a German Jew and was seven when he arrived in America as a refugee, knowing no English. And all the way through his life, I proudly note, he was surrounded by incredibly talented Jews, Elaine May, Neil Simon and the New York theatre set, and the Hollywood moguls who produced his films. (May herself debuted as a small child in the Yiddish theatre and so almost certainly performed in the plays of my great-grandfather. Should I send her my book?)

Nicols was both brilliant intellectually and extremely funny, two qualities that don’t necessarily go together. He was a very nice man, adored by his actors, which also is not that common for directors. After years as an actor and improvisor, he said that as soon as he started directing, he knew this was what he was meant to do. “Directing is what, without knowing it, I’d been getting ready to do all along.”

That really struck me. I thought, perhaps that’s what teaching memoir writing was for me. Because from the start, it did feel like exactly the right place to be. Though Nicols had a tiny bit more success than I in his chosen profession, with a string of Broadway and Hollywood hits, wealth and fame, Tonys and Oscars and White House honours. However.

He talked about humour. “Funny,” he quoted May as saying, “is where stuff goes into your heart.”
And he talked of realizing, as he directed the movie Silkwood, that it was actually about himself. “It was about someone who’s asleep who wakes up. And I realized that was me. All my work was, finally, about me.”

And finally, in an overview of his work, he said, “People say, about a work of theatre or film, Why are you telling me this? And one answer is, ‘Because it’s funny.’ But that’s not enough; it doesn’t fill the gaps between laughs. The second answer is, Because it’s about you.”

I have an old record of his work with May and will put it on tonight and toast them both, groundbreaking, brave, brilliant artists who made us laugh but more, showed us ourselves. With thanks.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

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Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


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